of the genre to which they belong – as a prerequisite for a proper understanding of the work’snature – and mostly its anthological character. It will proceed to outline the structure of the book,referring mainly to its first section, which is of immediate interest to the topic. The scriptural background of Palamas’ thinking will be subsequently analysed, together with his views on thevarious competencies of theology and the natural sciences. Finally, the essay will emphasise therelevance of St Gregory’s approach for contemporary conversations on science and theology.
The literary genre of ‘chapters’: a brief history
The title of the work in question, the
, is indicative of both a literary genre widelyknown throughout the monastic milieus and the customary patristic preference for a non-systemicapproach towards various topics. The tradition of the chapters (
) was established in Egypt by the erudite ascetic Evagrius Ponticus (fourth century)
, and its original purpose was to assist thedaily monastic practice of mystical contemplation. As such, the chapters had from the outsetconstituted a source of insight and inspiration, aiming at spiritual formation rather than servingdoctrinal purposes. In spite of a series of successive transformations occurring with the genre, thisformative dimension survived throughout the Byzantine era primarily through liturgicalhymnography, such as, for example, St Andrew of Crete’s
,whose stanzas in factrepresent the chapters arranged in the form of hymnographical verse.……….29……….Concerning their morphological and functional development it is interesting to note that fromthe initial almost aphoristic sentences dealing with spiritual topics, the
evolved into a polemical tool and a way to disseminate concise information that was very similar to Clement theAlexandrian’s
. Closely related to this change is the fact that in their historical pilgrimage the chapters began to progressively incorporate material from a different source, the so-called ‘chains’ or anthologies of thematic citations from the holy fathers
.This appropriationexplains why the later Byzantine chapters, albeit with certain exceptions, addressed mostlydoctrinal topics, their original character becoming in time secondary. In line with thesedevelopments, and despite their title suggesting themes that were related to the spiritual journey, StGregory’s
seem to have been devised above all as a summary of the faith and a refutationof his opponents’ epistemology. Nevertheless, given that this work almost undoubtedly appears to be a compilation, as suggested by the title and its tripartite structure (see below), it is difficult to pinpoint the common denominator for all the chapters. Despite this difficulty, it is abundantly clear that within this work the above mentioned monastic and mystical features are still visible, as, for example, in the reiteration of the tradition of the saints as constituting the ultimate spiritualauthority
7; A. Louth, ‘The literature of the monastic movement’, in F. Young, L. Ayres &A. Louth (eds.),
The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature
(Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 2004) 377-8.
See J. Meyendorff,
The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church
(Crestwood: St Vladimir’s SeminaryPress, 2001) 37-8; D. Costache, ‘Reading the Scriptures with Byzantine Eyes: The HermeneuticalSignificance of St Andrew of Crete’s Great Canon’,
23 (2008) 53.
For example, the Palamite
cite from, and allude to, the following Church fathers: St Athanasius theGreat (chapters 61, 79, 114), St Basil the Great (chapters 56, 68, 71, 72, 76, 82, 83, 84, 88, 93, 109, 111, 122,143, 146), St Cyril of Alexandria (chapters 73, 96, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 124, 143), St Dionysiusthe Areopagite (chapters 65, 69, 77, 78, 79, 81, 85, 86, 87, 88, 90, 91, 106, 107, 122, 126), St Gregory theTheologian (chapters 49, 64, 77, 107, 109, 111, 124, 128, 130, 131, 146, 149), St Gregory of Nyssa (chapters49, 52, 109, 112), St John Chrysostom (chapters 66, 74, 77, 95, 108, 110), St John Damascene (chapters 73,80, 127, 129, 130, 131, 138, 143, 146), St Maximus the Confessor (chapters 76, 81, 88, 90, 111), St Symeonthe Translator (chapter 149). The inclusion of quotes from two or more authors in the same chapter stronglysuggests the use of anthologies. 2